You know how when you watch Paul Konerko bat, you kind of want him to hit a home run every time? And then when he gets a single instead of a home run, you’re disappointed, but you know you shouldn’t be, because no one hits a home run every time, and a single is still a base hit? Convoluted metaphor, meet “Brave,” the latest Pixar release.
“Brave” tells the story of medieval princess Merida and her quest to change her destiny. Merida’s proper Queen Mum (Emma Thompson) wants her to behave herself, act like a proper lady and marry one of the heirs of the other local clans. Merida (Kelly MacDonald) would rather spend her time tearing through the countryside atop her noble steed while firing arrows.
I hate to quibble with a movie that features a fantastic slow motion shot of the above-mentioned countryside gallop. Pixar’s first movie with a female lead toys with the inspiring in moments like that, but often sticks to a traditional princess story. There are even helpful forest creatures. Why did it have to be a princess story at all? Why did the action have to be driven by Merida’s upcoming betrothal?
If any other production company had made this movie, I’m sure I would be less disappointed. “Brave” is funny, fast-paced and beautiful. Mention should be made of the infinite, intricate curls of Merida’s brilliant orange hair, which is Pixar mastery at its finest. It looks like real hair. As my mother pointed out, you can just tell she’d never be able to get a brush through it. Particularly after all the climbing, tumbling, fighting and riding.
Speaking of mothers: I was not expecting this movie to focus so much on a teenager and her mother trying to come to terms. That’s not a criticism. Merida’s efforts to change her destiny focus entirely on changing her mother, who is the driving force behind the marriage decision, though you come to understand why. Her father, an enormous warrior who’s lost a leg in battle to a vicious cursed bear, would rather retell battle stories and scrum with the visiting clans than make important state decisions.
Once Merida actually puts her plan into action, I expected the queen to vanish while Merida worked out her demons, but the movie instead follows the two of them trying to work through their issues and save the “changed” mother. The men are mostly preening fools who resolve their differences with their fists, with the exception of Merida’s trouble-making triplet baby brothers. Evil geniuses in the making, they’re a three-man crime squad dedicated to stealing cakes.
OK, fine, it’s an empowering movie about two women, wastes no time on a love story, and has snappy dialogue. I should love this movie. I certainly liked it. But…remember that scene in “Wall-E” where he’s being pulled through space and he reaches an arm up to touch a bit of glowing celestial matter? It’s a beautiful moment, and to me, indelible. Literally reaching for the stars. Or the now infamous opening 15 minutes of “Up” that make everyone cry?Or going a bit further back, the virtuosic scene in “Monsters, Inc.” where the titular monsters are pursued by the villain through a series of bedroom doors that lead all over the world?
Pixar’s prior movies have been so ambitious and unusual that critics tend to use the word “virtuosic” in their reviews. “Brave” is a perfectly satisfying movie. I just wish it had reached for the stars a bit more.